A client asked me this morning to review and comment on his organization’s strategic plan template. A template? What? The thoughts racing through my mind went something like... "You can’t template a strategic plan. I mean, sure, there are a handful of broad headers that you could type up but to what end? Creating a template would exacerbate one of the biggest problems with our typical approaches to strategic planning and not something I could get behind. The focus seems more on the end document that the process of discovery, creative thinking, and cross-discipline input. Grrrr."
He elaborated that he was looking for some thought-provoking questions to include in an annotated outline. Sigh. Ok, now, that makes a lot more sense. Based on his request, I jotted down some basic strategic planning guidelines and the kind of questions you should be asking of your team.
Before doing “save as” and creating your spanking new strategic plan file, set some time parameters. As arbitrary as they might seem, establishing short but reasonable boundaries around the effort is tremendously helpful. Without sideboards, strategic planning can and will go on forever, quickly lose momentum, cause the team to question your leadership and the organization's direction, and result in a reassignment to organizing the supply closet. Definitely not a strategic career move. So, I’d suggest that you set a deadline of about a week-- 2 max. No joke. You really do not need more time. Simple and clear beats perfect and polished every time.
Ok, here you go...
- What are you “strategically” trying to solve? Don’t get too hung up on the language and meaning of strategic. I’d say that a plan is strategic if it’s taken into account multiple viewpoints and approaches and selected the best possible path given the information available at the time. A project plan would describe the step-by-step once this approach is finalized.
Current State and Desired End State
- Briefly describe where the organization stands today in the face of this problem.
- In an ideal world, where would you be and by when? Personally, I recommend that you keep the goals modest and the timelines relatively near-term. Multi-year strategic plans have very limited practical value.
Stakeholders and Customers
- Besides you, who cares about this outcome? These are your stakeholders who should be asked for input.
- Who are you trying to please, support, engage, or help? These are your customers (even if you’re not “selling” anything.) Spend most of the time you have talking about this group then take another pass through your decisions and tweak from the customer’s point of view.
Opportunities and Limitations
- What events can you reasonable anticipate in the set timeframe that you want to take advantage of or avoid. Keep it short and snappy.
So what’s the path?
- Given all the thoughts above, provide some sense of the range of options considered. Which path best takes advantage of all of the resources at your disposal? This is your strategic path. Write this down—on paper if that’s easiest.
- What logical evaluation points along the path exist? Mark these roughly on your calendar and commit to a quick (less than 1 meeting) evaluation of how you’re doing.
Have fun with it. To me, one of the most commonly missed opportunities with strategic planning is that we all take it too seriously and limit input to only the coolest kids in the office. Lame. Instead, even the most modest effort to make it interesting, take some guesses, accept some risk, and integrate as many viewpoints as possible will make this different from the last time.